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The Gabriel Construct

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Gabriel Lucas Riccio of the Gabriel Construct from 2013

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

I come from Salisbury, a small town on the eastern shore of Maryland. I had never imagined that I could assemble the lineup for Interior City right in my hometown, but that's exactly what happened.

One day, I went to a doctor's appointment, and one of the nurses told me that her son, Garrett Davis, was an audio engineer with a studio in town. I figured that he was probably a “producer” with an M-box in his basement, but then she told me that he had credits on Train records and built a studio for BT. I looked him up and it was true, so I scheduled a meeting with him. Upon hearing my demos for Interior City, he immediately recommended Travis Orbin (drums - Darkest Hour, ex-Periphery, Of Legends, Sky Eats Airplane). I didn't have a drummer lined up, and was considering playing the drums myself. I was
familiar with Travis's work with Ever Since Radio (a local band) as well as his work in Periphery, and I had an incredible amount of respect for him. I had never imagined that it was possible for me to work with him, especially this early on in my career - but I contacted him, and he really loved my demos! It turned out that he lived only 40 minutes away. I decided to record the album with Garrett, and I started doing pre-production with Travis via email. I couldn't believe how lucky I was.

Travis then connected me with bassist Tom Murphy, who had just left Periphery and was therefore available to play on my album. Travis and Garrett connected me with producer Taylor Larson, who mixed and mastered Interior City with me.

I had been friends with David Stivelman (guitar, ex-Debbie Does Dallas) since first grade, and we went to the same school from then until the end of high school. Sophia Uddin (violin) and Soren Larson
(saxophone) were college classmates of mine, and I had been dating Sophia for almost a year by the time we started recording the album.

All of these people really took the album to the next level, and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to work with all of them. Now I've moved to Chicago, and I'm working on assembling a
lineup to perform on my next record and to perform material from Interior City live.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music, what do you think you'd be doing?
I would be trying to change farming practices and chemical laws in the US. There is currently no federal regulation on chemicals in household products and cosmetics in the US, and over 1,000 chemicals
banned in the EU are legal here, including some pesticides used on our food. Companies are not currently responsible for proving that the chemicals they use are safe, so I would work towards changing that.
As for meat farming practices, factory farming uses nearly half of the country's water supply and more than 70% our grain crop, and it is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. It is possible to
create a much more efficient, ethical and sustainable system.

I am also interested in herpetology, arthropods, filmmaking (in the form of writing scores and screenplays), and computer programming. When I was younger, I wanted to be a herpetologist working on preservation, as amphibians are disappearing very fast and they are a great indicator species (environmental changes affect them before other species).
MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?
Everyone reading my last name for the first time seems to have a different take on the pronunciation - there is even disagreement within my family. I pronounce it “Ree-Chee-Oh” - a slightly Americanized version of the Italian pronunciation - but the rest of my family says “Rick-ee-oh”. To avoid that sort of confusion, I thought it would be best to adopt a different name. I wanted a name that was still linked to my own, but had a greater meaning. “Gabriel” is also the name of the archangel that acts as God's messenger, so I decided to go with “The Gabriel Construct” - referring both to my own mental constructs and to the idea of something created by the messenger of God (as I felt like much of the music was dictated by something greater than myself).
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
I attempt to listen to all of the music I possibly can in as many different styles as possible and learn something about all of it in order to add more tools to my toolbox. The largest rock influence on
the album is from the '90s space rock band Failure. I even went out and found the flanger pedal they used so I could use it to create the lead guitar tones on Interior City. I started listening to them right
at the start of high school, and that did a lot for my engagement with music - I created piano versions of their songs by ear, and that led me to write my first piece for a real instrument - a solo piano work. 
Two songs on Interior City, “Defense Highway” and “Inner Sanctum,” were respectively the second and third pieces I wrote for piano, and they are both influenced very strongly by Failure. I arranged them into
rock songs much later on, by which point I was incorporating many more influences into my writing. On the metal front, I was heavily influenced by Devin Townsend's wall-of-sound production, and by
Scandinavian progressive metal bands such as Opeth and Enslaved.

Towards the end of the process of writing Interior City, 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen became my greatest influence. My composition teacher at Swarthmore College, Gerald Levinson, was a student of Messiaen and Philadelphia composer George Crumb, so I learned quite a bit about both of these composers in school and immersed myself in their music. It was a hugely influential experience. The first song on Interior City, “Arrival in a Distant Land,” is an answer to the question “What if George Crumb were a singer-songwriter?,” and it also has a brief quotation of Messiaen's transcription of the nightingale's song. (Messiaen was an amateur ornithologist, and he used to spend his time transcribing birdcalls into musical notation.) The second song, “Ranting Prophet,”quotes a motive which Messiaen used in all of his early works. The end of “Fear of Humanity” uses one of Messiaen's orchestration techniques, and I quote one of his rhythms in “Curing Somatization.”
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I have started recording my next two albums, but I’m taking my time with them - promoting and performing Interior City takes precedence.  I’ve also been working on a full length with Ocuplanes, a progressive rock band from Ridgely, MD. I am performing all the vocals and some of the keyboards on the record in addition to producing and engineering it, writing the vocal arrangements, and co-writing the lyrics.

I have some guest spots on two upcoming releases - a brief vocal appearance on Being's Anthropocene and guest keyboards and vocals on Itsteeth's Divided EP. Travis also appears on both of these releases, and I’ve been working with him on both a collaborative pop project and a new band.
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Interior City is difficult to classify, but it may be best described as experimental/avant-garde progressive rock. It is a stylistically diverse record, unified by its dark mood and atmosphere. It is dominated by acoustic piano instead of guitars, though the pianos are often distorted. The music ranges from sparse solo piano passages to densely layered sections filled with thick stacks of vocals and dissonant harmonies.

Progressive rock started as a genre which integrated classical and jazz ideas into a rock setting. I am trying to return to that original idea by integrating ideas from other genres into rock music - ideas which haven't been used in rock music in the same way before.  Interior City incorporates influences from classic prog, 20th century classical music, extreme metal, 90s grunge and space rock, free jazz, drum-n-bass, 80s pop, middle eastern music, and more.
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
Absolutely! Devin Townsend, Kristoffer Rygg, Brian Blade, Steve Reich, Trent Reznor, Luc Lemay, Johnny Greenwood, Kronos Quartet, The Arditti Quartet, Fredrik Thordendal, The Bang on a Can All-Stars, Evan Ziporyn, John Zorn, Trey Gunn, Adrian Belew, Mike Patton, Peter Gabriel, Chino Moreno, Aphex Twin, El-P, David Binney, Wadada Leo Smith, Herbie Hancock, Chris Pennie, Jørgen Munkeby, Jerry Cantrell, Greg Edwards. . . there are too many to name them all!
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
A bit of both. It has helped to create exposure for artists like me who are just starting their careers and haven't made a name for themselves yet, but streaming is starting to fill that role. Streaming is simpler, more convenient, and more guilt free, even though it only gives the artist a fraction of a cent per stream. I
doubt that CD sales are ever going to return to where they were, as they’ve been replaced by a new, more convenient medium, albeit harder to regulate. I think we all need to start looking forwards and find
the new model to replace the old one instead of trying to revive a dying model.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I think it's great! I used to really enjoy listening to concert bootlegs from my favorite acts when I was younger. Now it's easier than ever to do it, since everyone can record shows onto their phone, but the sound quality has gone down as a result. I can't say I enjoy listening to phone microphone recordings, and I think focusing on your phone screen can take you out of the experience of being at a concert, but that's just my personal preference.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch-nemesis and why?
Robin Thicke, because he created an incredibly creepy and misogynistic video promoting rape culture and stated that it was a pleasure to degrade women. That's unacceptable. But to keep things in the prog
sphere and to pick a truly worthy adversary, I’ll go with Dream Theater. That band has incredible technical skill and I respect them for that, but I can't connect to any of their music, which I find to be representative of all the things I don't enjoy in modern prog.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
I’d put together a jazz/classical fusion chamber orchestra with electronic elements. The Arditti quartet would form the string section, while the horn section would consist of John Zorn (on tenor sax), Evan Ziporyn (clarinet), David Binney (alto sax) and Wadada Leo Smith (trumpet). Steve Reich would lead a percussion ensemble, accompanied by Dennis Chambers on the drum kit. Tony Levin and Trey
Gunn would play all the electric bass instruments, while Ron Carter would play acoustic bass. I’d get Austin Peralta (back from the dead) on piano, while Fredrik Thordendal would handle the guitar. 
Kristoffer Rygg and Tim Hecker would be responsible for the electronics. It would be predominately instrumental with occasional vocal performances from Rygg and a number of guest vocalists,
including figures like Björk, Mike Patton, Lisa Gerard, Dawn Upshaw and Roland Orzabal.
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
My favorite concert I’ve ever attended was Bang on a Can's 2010 Marathon in Philadelphia - twelve hours of nonstop music. I loved it because there were so many different kinds of music - it opened with a
Steve Reich percussion piece, then a chilling collaborative orchestral composition with pop elements. Spoken Hand Percussion combined Indian, African, and Afro-Cuban percussion sections into a single
ensemble. Asphalt Orchestra played marching band arrangements of Mingus, Zappa, Björk and Meshuggah. There was a chamber ensemble playing gamelan-inspired music and a piece composed by Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth). There was a one-of-a-kind Burmese instrument, a funk group, an ambient group, Uri Caine playing dark ambient free jazz, choral music, the Sun Ra Arkestra. . . that was my dream concert. It was incredibly diverse, and all the music was great.

That's the kind of festival I’d organize. I’d take music I love from all sorts of seemingly unrelated genres and put them together into a single bill which would be nonetheless coherent and well-shaped (and
at a reasonable volume level). I’d put some pieces by Reich, Messiaen, Dutilleux and Ligeti on the program alongside Wadada Leo Smith, Ulver, Devin Townsend, John Zorn, a Mike Patton project, a Robert Fripp project (if he’d be willing to return to playing music), Radiohead, Kronos Quartet, Arditti Quartet, Meshuggah, Jaga Jazzist, Deftones, El-P, Gorguts, Bohren & Der Club of Gore, etc. That would
be a transcendent experience for me.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers
Becca Stevens Band - Weightless
Pat Metheny - John Zorn's Book of Angels Vol. 20: Tap
Jaga Jazzist - Live with Britten Sinfonia
David Lang/Michael Gordon/Julia Wolfe (Bang on a Can) - Shelter
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
Recently, I read Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut and The Pearl by John Steinbeck, who are two of my favorite authors. I was also pleasantly surprised by War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - it's actually a very
easy read with incredibly vibrant characters, despite its reputation.  100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez was excellent, as well. I also revisited an old favorite, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
The Chicago jazz festival, at the end of August. I mostly saw the bigger acts - Jack DeJohnette, Jason Moran, Wadada Leo Smith, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Jimmy Heath, Willie Pickins, Robert Glasper, Gregory
Porter, Hamid Drake. . . it was incredible. I don't think I’ve ever seen so much good music in one place for free before.

Before that, I went to see Travis Orbin play with Darkest Hour on the last night of their tour with Killswitch Engage. Travis's playing was amazing, of course, and the band was really tight. Those guys know how to put on a great show.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure”?

I was in sixth grade when nu metal became popular, so Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory was the first album to turn me into an obsessive music fan. I can still enjoy that album if I hear it now, probably because
of nostalgia. I love the rhythm section on Mudvayne's debut. I enjoy some pop music, from Abandoned Pools to Depeche Mode to Utada Hikaru to the occasional Lady Gaga video. I also get a kick out of some
musical humor, like The Lonely Island or Chuggo's Ah C’mon.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
In my last year of college, I played a set with a pianist and we were performing a rather crazy song he had written. I got to an improvisatory section where I started screaming and convulsing like a madman, and I accidentally yanked out the cable from his keyboard. It took me a moment to notice that the music was gone, and I looked around like a fool, trying to figure out what had happened. The keyboardist quickly informed me that I’d unplugged him, so I quickly plugged him back in then immediately resumed screaming my head off and flailing around.

Soon after, we played a house show, and I started off our set making a dumb joke about sleeping as performance art. Nobody laughed, and I couldn't blame them, as it was a pretty weak joke, and we got a pretty cold reception from the audience for the rest of the set. When we finished playing, I walked into the hallway, and lo and behold – there was a performance art installation of someone sleeping on a staircase! I had accidentally started our set by insulting one of the other performers without even realizing it. What were the chances?
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
It would be interesting to sit down with some of my favorite composers from the twentieth century and learn about their approaches to music firsthand - Messiaen and Ligeti are the first two that come to mind,
as they are infinitely fascinating and original composers with two very, very different approaches - Messiaen was more spiritually motivated, while Ligeti was more political and mathematical. Ravi
Shankar would be the third, as he was also a spiritually motivated classical player and composer, but from a completely different cultural traditional. Messiaen borrowed a number of elements from Indian music, while Shankar trained a number of Westerners and participated in Western festivals. I’d be very fascinated to see what common ground, if any, these three figures could find, in addition to learning something useful about their approaches.

If I couldn't do that, I’d dine with my family. My sister just returned to college and I’ve moved to Chicago so my parents are empty nesters for the first time. It would be good to get all of us together for a night, since I don't think that will happen for a while.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
I would like to cook the meal myself. I’m vegan and I especially love Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and African food, since I have a fixation with spices. I like to try combining spices from different cultures in novel ways and see what happens. I also prefer to use fresh, organic ingredients. It would be fun to try to cook one of Ravi Shankar's favorite dishes and have him judge it for authenticity, as I am probably best at Indian cooking.
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
My next album will begin right where Interior City ended, continuing the story and the musical mood from the last two minutes of that record. It will be a warmer, more positive and more accessible
record, very different from what you’ve heard from me so far.

Thank you for the interview and thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this interview.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at
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